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Certain books should come with a warning label saying: “WARNING: You are entering Dangerous Territory, this book will mess up your mind.

“We thought they were free services, but we were the raw material. We thought we were using them, but they were using us. We think they are privacy policies but they are surveillance policies. If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing.”

Does it bother you that most everything you do on the internet, on Facebook, Instagram, Google makes corporations you never heard of rich off of your data? In this book, Shoshana Zuboff explains how it is worse than that. ‘The goal is to automate us.’

Not only is our likes, posts and tweets and retweets analysed accumulated and sold to advertisers, our current online behavior is used to predict our future behaviours and to manipulate us for profits.

That you have a social media account is not what is material, what is material is your behavior on social media. It’s your behavior online that is monetised.

That like and retweet, what you google, your location, the pictures you upload are all analysed and over time, the social capitalists are able to tell what kind of person you are, who you are likely to vote for, etc.

This is a highly influential book. It raises very important issues, especially now when the 4th Industrial Revolution is taking off.

So there are two profiles, the one you create on stage, that is the one you and everyone else sees online, and there is another profile backstage, the one you don’t even know about, the one about your behaviour, the one you don’t know about, that’s the one sold to companies.

We are no longer just internet users, but we are raw materials farmed for profit by Facebook and Google.

Here is how the model works for Surveillance Capitalists:

  • The first model would work like this: Make access to Facebook or Google fee based. In other words users would subscribe and pay to access and use these apps. This way, you are able to generate revenue from the users and cover your costs. This model was scrapped at the planning stages of these two Apps.
  • The second model which was adopted works like this: Make access to Facebook and Google free to the users. How do we then make money? Once we have enough users subscribed, we then sell their details and behaviours to advertisers. The advertiser will pay us “pay-per-click.”
  • The refined second model which is an improved version of the second model: Over and above creating advertising space, let’s monitor the behavior of the users, their location, the calls they may, how the spend their money, who the hang out with, their inboxes, etc. Once we have done this extensively, we can then use this data, to manipulate them to make certain decisions, vote for certain candidates etc.

“Surveillance capitalism” seeks to monetize the routines of our daily lives through collecting excruciatingly minute data about our every interaction and use it to modify our behavior and herd us toward a particular financial outcome.

That emoji you posted on Facebook? That time you got angry at a friend on your Android? That video chat where you shifted uncomfortably in your chair? All logged and crunched into an extensive data profile that insurance companies can use to determine the cost of your policy, banks can use to determine if you are a credit risk, and in China to determine if you are eligible for certain kinds of employment.

This is not simply a digital footprint of websites you have visited where you can clear your history and move on.

What companies like Facebook and Google are doing know is a radical reshaping of societies around the world.

Here are two basic questions:

  • What is the economic engine that fuels Google, Facebook, Twitter and their subsidiaries?
  • How can companies that make nothing, make billions?

You think you know the answer. They make it by advertising to you. And you think you’re wise to the deal: you click on Google to search for some shoes, and your Facebook stream shows you some adverts for shoes for the next few weeks.  I can put up with that, you think.

The more engaged we are online, the more these companies know about us, and the more they know, the more they can sell predictions of our behavior for people who want to modify it.

The old say about free platforms, if it is free, you are the product – is not quite true. You are not the product, you are the site of raw material extraction, and that extraction is not just to sell ads, it is to provide the means of control to anyone who will profit from it.

Human experiences are the raw materials for behavioural surplus on which surveillance capitalists build their unprecedented empires.

But how does that work exactly?

These Surveillance Capitalists [Facebook, Google] tracks everything that is connected about you. Your phone, your location, your contacts, your camera, your pictures, your watch, your speaker, your thermostat, everything on your phone is tracked.

And that data is mined and sold on.

You did not realise that when you agreed to those vast terms and conditions that you didn’t bother to read when you downloaded these Apps.

You are thinking Big Brother, Shoshana calls it Big Other. We are being watched.

We are the pawns in one big surveillance game.

Our phones are surveillance devices monitoring us. Everywhere we go, we have them. Our phones tracks our locations, Big Other is always checking our movements.

After reading this book, you will never quite view Google and Facebook in the same way again.

Rating

9/10

Once a year or so, maybe less often, a book comes along that ‘everyone’ says that ‘everyone ought to read.’ This is a book I recommend everyone ought to read.

This is one of the most important books I have read in a long while.

It is an impressive work that ties together a lot of trends into a very spooky picture of where we are headed when intimate data about each of us is used as the raw material for prediction and control.

I recommend it because the challenges it explores are staggeringly important, scary, and of a kind that almost defy exaggeration.

Shoshana does a brave job of highlighting some of the most important issues that most of people are not aware off, or are not aware of the extent they go.

Shoshana holds back no punches on this one, she lets it rip, she has done her homework and it shows.

As I was reading this book, I felt like throwing my phone in the river, and heading for the hills. Shoshana owes me money for therapy.

It is long, well-informed, widely and deeply read, and passionate.

This book is more than worth a read.

Favorite Quotes:

  • “Surveillance capitalism is not technology; it is a logic that imbues technology and commands it into action. That surveillance capitalism is a logic in action and not a technology is a vital point because surveillance capitalists want us to think that their practices are inevitable expressions of the technologies they employ.
  • Digital technology is separating the citizens in all societies into two groups: the watchers and the watched.
  • We cannot evaluate the current trajectory of information civilization without a clear appreciation that technology is not and never can be a thing in itself, isolated from economics and society. This means that technological inevitability does not exist. Technologies are always economic means, not ends in themselves.”
  • “If industrial civilization flourished at the expense of nature and now theatens to cost us the Earth, an information civilization shaped by surveillance capitalism will thrive at the expense of human nature and theatens to cost us our humanity.”
  • “Democracy has slept, while surveillance capitalists amassed unprecedented concentrations of knowledge and power”
  • “New Facebook operations can render as measurable behaviour everything from your personality to your sense of time, sexual orientation, intelligence and scores of other personal characteristics.”
  • “Silicon Valley is amassing your data so artificial intelligence can subvert your rights, freedoms, and even conscious thought.”
  • “Surveillance capitalism unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data. Although some of these data are applied to service improvement, the rest are declared as a proprietary behavioural surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence’, and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later. Finally, these prediction products are traded in a new kind of marketplace that I call behavioural futures markets. Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, for many companies are willing to lay bets on our future behaviour.”
  • “In addition to Facebook’s already complex computational machinery for targeting ads, by 2016 the News Feed function depended upon one of the world’s most secretive predictive algorithms, derived from a God view of more than 100,000 elements of behavioral surplus that are continuously computed to determine the’personal relevancy’ score of thousands of possible posts as it scans and collects everything posted in the past week by each of your friends, everyone you follow, each group you belong to, and every Facebook page you’ve liked.”
  • “Pokemon Go was an experimental lab for the Google city.”
  • “The taking of private human experience is illegitimate and must be interrupted.”
  • “People habituate to the incursion with some combination of agreement, helplessness, and resignation. The sense of astonishment and outrage dissipates. The incursion itself, once unthinkable, slowly worms its way into the ordinary. Worse still, it gradually comes to seem inevitable. New dependencies develop. As populations grow numb, it becomes more difficult for individuals and groups to complain.”

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